Prime minister faults U.S.-led coalition for negligence in massacre of Iraqi recruits
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iraq’s interim prime minister blamed the U.S.-led coalition Tuesday for “great negligence” in the ambush that killed about 50 soldiers heading home after graduation from a U.S.-run training course, and warned of an escalation of terrorist attacks.
Underscoring the warning, insurgents made a new threat of nationwide attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces “with weapons and military tactics they have not experienced before” if American forces try to storm the militant stronghold of Fallujah.
Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the Iraqi National Council, a government oversight body, that coalition forces’ negligent handling of security was responsible for Saturday’s deadly ambush along a remote highway near the Iranian border.
“It was a heinous crime where a group of National Guardsmen were targeted,” Allawi said. “There was great negligence on the part of some coalition forces.”
He said the Defense Ministry began an investigation into whether insurgents had infiltrated military ranks to obtain information about troop movements.
Allawi did not explain how the coalition had failed in its responsibilities to the Iraqi troops, who were traveling to southern Iraq in three buses after graduating from a training course in Kirkush. The buses had no armed escort and the soldiers were not carrying weapons.
However, in an interview with Al-Arabiya television, Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan blamed the recruits, who in their eagerness to get home decided to leave immediately after their graduation and take an unauthorized route.
“They are to blame. They graduated at 12 p.m. and could have delayed their trip,” he said. Shaalan added that neither the Defense Ministry, the Kirkush commanders nor the U.S.-run forces were to blame.
“They are the ones who chose this road that led them to this ugly result,” he said of the victims. “There might have been some people who gave information about them to hostile sides.”
Some of the bodies were found in rows – shot execution-style through the head – at a site about 95 miles east of Baghdad, the Defense Ministry said. Other bodies were found on a burned bus nearby.
The U.S. command did not respond directly to Allawi’s comments, but said in a statement: “This was a cold-blooded and systematic massacre by terrorists. They and no one else, must be held fully accountable for these heinous acts.”
In his appearance before the council, Allawi also warned that more insurgents were massing in Fallujah, a city west of Baghdad, and “you should expect an escalation in terrorist acts.”
“Our information confirms that more extremists have entered Fallujah lately to try to harm the residents of Fallujah and then harm the Iraqi government by keeping the situation volatile,” he said. “The enemies are becoming aware that if Iraq recovers, it will be a major blow to them and therefore they will escalate terrorist acts and activities.”
Allawi has told Fallujah leaders that they must surrender extremists, chief among them Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or face attack. His comments Tuesday appeared aimed at preparing Iraqis for the eventuality of such an attack, which could inflame public opinion in Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world.
In a videotape obtained by Associated Press Television News, militants calling themselves the “factions of the Islamic Resistance Movement in Iraq” warned that if the Americans try to overrun Fallujah, “we swear in the name of God that all armed factions will attack all military and civilian targets of the occupation forces and the interim government.”
The warning was delivered by a masked gunman dressed in an old-style Iraqi army uniform, flanked by seven other men. The speaker accused the Iraqi government of “aborting a peaceful solution with the people of Fallujah.”
“We will attack them with weapons and military tactics they have not experienced before and in the ways and forms of our choosing,” he added.
He warned all Iraqi military personnel and government employees to quit their jobs; otherwise they “will be permissible targets for our fighters.” A banner behind him read “The Movement of Iraqi National Resistance Regiments.”
Daily insurgent attacks across the country have taken a heavy toll on Iraqis, and attacks have increased by 25 percent in the two weeks since the holy Muslim month of Ramadan began.
Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib said that from June through September, there were 92 car bomb attacks, killing 569 people and wounding 1,318.
Iraqi officials said in August there were a record 645 attacks against “public or state institutions,” that killed 147 and wounded 385. In September, the number of attacks dropped to 120, but the number of casualties remained high: 193 dead and 385 injured.
Al-Zarqawi’s followers have claimed responsibility for the beheadings of foreign hostages and numerous attacks, including Saturday’s ambush on Iraqi recruits.
U.S. forces recently have ratcheted up their aerial and artillery assaults against Fallujah, using precision airstrikes to destroy safe houses, command centers, and weapons storage belonging to al-Zarqawi’s network. An aide to al-Zarqawi was killed during an overnight strike, the U.S. military said.
Fallujah, just 40 miles from Baghdad, fell under insurgent control after the Bush administration ordered U.S. Marines to lift a three-week siege of the city in April following a wave of popular outrage in Iraq over civilian casualties.
U.S. commanders have spoken of a new offensive to clear insurgent strongholds ahead of Iraq’s elections in January.